Tag Archives: depression

If Tories don’t support abusers, why does Universal Credit push people to stay in abusive relationships?

Abuse: the Tories have ensured that people can’t escape if it means claiming Universal Credit. That way lie only debt, depression and mental breakdown.

Twisted Tory rules mean that people are financially encouraged to stay in abusive relationships rather than claim Universal Credit.

The Conservative government has deliberately weighted the conditions under which the so-called benefit is paid to make it more difficult for people to survive by claiming it than by living with an abuser – even if this means endangering their own lives.

People with disabilities are particularly at risk. But then, those of us who are familiar with the Tory record on disability have come to expect that.

Unite the Union has provided the story of Emma (not her real name), who lived a life of psychological abuse, control and marital rape until she was helped to divorce her husband and strike out on her own.

She did not think there would be any hardship as her husband, it seems, was a genuine skiver who refused to work, meaning she had been the main earner – despite being able to work only 24 hours per week, due to a serious autoimmune disease.

But the Tories made sure she would suffer.

Previously, as a working person, she had been receiving tax credits, and would have been better-off had she continued to do so.

But the Tories used her change of circumstances to force her onto Universal Credit, leaving her £350 per month worse-off.

There are several reasons for this:

The disabled worker allowance she used to receive under tax credits was stopped. This is because the allowance can only be accessed through a work capability assessment, which grants benefits to people unable to work, rather than for disabled people who can work.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has stated that this has resulted in a Catch 22 where “a worker must be assessed as not fit for work to receive targeted in-work support”.

Have you ever heard of anything as flat-out daft?

I bet if anyone tried to point it out, they’d have to fight an expensive court case before the Tories did anything about it, too.

Worse still, Emma ran into a problem that has now been challenged in court, with a ruling made against it:

Her wages are paid on the last Wednesday of every month rather than on the same date. This resulted in her claim being cancelled and her payments being stopped for three months. She was also ineligible to claim her entitlement back for the month in which the claim was ended.

This is a widely experienced problem for Universal Credit claimants whose regular wages are paid on different days each month and stems from an ill-considered policy stipulation that the benefit amount is calculated to a strictly defined time period.

Now Emma is among 85,000 people who should be able to claim compensation, after the Court of Appeal have ruled that it was “irrational” for the Department for Work and Pensions – and the Secretary of State in particular – to ignore the fact that computer systems would assume that claimant had received double the money expected and cancel their payments.

The Conservative government spent two years fighting this court case – indicating that, despite being well aware of the issue, Tories were determined to continue depriving some of the poorest workers in the UK of vital benefits – including victims of outrageous domestic abuse like Emma.

I asked in my previous article about the court case whether the Tories were sadists or perverts, commenting that “perverts” seemed closest to the mark as one of the judges had described the situation as “perverse”.

Considering Emma’s case, it seems they were sadists as well.

The court ruling came too late for her, by the way – forced into an ever-mounting debt crisis with not even an offer of support from the Department for Work and Pensions, the weight of a life suffering abuse came crashing over her and she suffered a nervous breakdown.

She is now diagnosed as suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

After 22 years as a healthcare professional in which she had always paid her bills, taxes and pension contributions, she now says she is “mortgaged up to the hilt… living off a credit card and have taken out two personal loans”.

So Universal Credit has put Emma exactly where the Tories want her – deeply in debt and forced to work like a beast of burden in the forlorn hope of clearing that debt again.

Consider the fact that 85,000 people are likely to have been put in the same situation by the ‘pay date’ scandal alone – never mind those who lost the disabled worker allowance, and it seems clear that the Tories are trying to create a “zombie economy” – with working people forced to wear themselves out trying to pay off an impossibly-high debt while their creditors sit back and count their profits.

It seems a limited amount of help is available for people who have suffered domestic abuse – but anyone seeking it must provide “written evidence” (of what kind?) within one month of discussing it with a work coach.

Emma is clear about the end result:

“Had I known that I would lose my tax credits and be transferred to Universal Credit before I separated from my ex-husband, I most definitely would have remained in the marriage and that is a worrying thought.

“Universal Credit, I believe, traps people in unhealthy relationships and causes more difficulties to individuals who are already in a vulnerable and distressing situation.”

So much for Iain Duncan Smith’s brainchild.

The only way for vulnerable people like Emma to avoid its debt trap is to go back into domestic degradation and abuse.

And the only conclusion we can draw is that Conservative politicians have designed the system to achieve this.

So it would be fair to say the Conservative government – and every MP who is a member of it – in league with the worst kind of physical, psychological and sexual abusers.

If they try to deny it, let them explain why they designed Universal Credit that way – and why they fight court cases to keep it that way.

Source: Domestic abuse survivor speaks out about Universal Credit nightmare

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Benefit sanctions achieve little more than increasing anxiety and depression – LSE

Benefit sanctions lead to increases in claimants’ anxiety and depression, and a re-assessment of the role of sanctions is needed as the UK slowly emerges from lockdown – according to the London School of Economics.

According to a recent assessment, current sanctions policy can be considered to be ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’. Importantly, there are straightforward steps that can be implemented to minimise the harms associated with sanctions and to help realise the basic right to a social minimum.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should … assess the impacts of sanctions on health and well-being. Mental health and labour market outcomes are likely to be interrelated; the adverse mental health impacts of sanctions could plausibly affect people’s ability to search for and attain paid work.

There is a need to reduce the length of sanctions and/or the proportion of benefit that is withdrawn… Sanctions are consecutive within Universal Credit, which means that some will be affected by penalties that last longer than the new apparent maximum of 26 weeks.

The hardship payments system is insufficient and also needs to be reformed… Adverse mental health impacts … are observed even though the rate of hardship payments [has] increased. Hardship payments within Universal Credit are awarded for a restricted set of reasons and are repayable, leading to even fewer claimants receiving them than in the past.

The application of sanctions should be limited to a last resort. Initially, Universal Credit operated with a very high rate of sanctions, though this has since been reduced. The low rate could be maintained by implementing a warning system; limiting the number of reasons for which sanctions apply; and establishing clear rules for what constitutes a ‘good reason’ for non-compliance.

Source: The impact of DWP benefit sanctions on anxiety and depression | British Politics and Policy at LSE

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Mental health crisis for autistic man as DWP stops his disability benefits

A man had to be referred to a mental health crisis team after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped his disability benefit.

Aaron Calver, 29, is on the autism spectrum and has Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, anxiety and depression. He struggles to cope with everyday tasks and has received disability benefits since he was 15.

But that did not stop the DWP from calling him to an assessment of his right to receive Personal Independence Payment, and then cancelling it.

It seems he was told he was able to work and should be doing so – but it also seems the assessor did not check his ability to manage this.

His mother Hazel said she tried to explain the realities of Aaron’s life, but the assessor would not listen and put her down.

She said the decision had  affected Aaron deeply. He was not sleeping properly, had to be referred to the mental health crisis team and the doctor had increased his medication.

She said she felt he was being punished because of the way he was born.

Including the loss of her Carers’ Allowance, the family is now £700 a month worse off.

The DWP has said they can ask for a review of the ruling, and in the meantime they still have Aaron’s Employment and Support Allowance which, at £500/month, leaves them with less than half what they formerly had to support themselves.

Complaints against assessments have skyrocketed from 142 in 2015-16 to 9,320 in the year to February 2019. Anybody unhappy with a review can then appeal – and nearly three-quarters of these (73 per cent) are successful.

For This Writer, the claim that Mr Calver was being punished because of what he is – the way he was born – has deeply sinister overtones.

I have suggested for many years that the DWP has been implementing a Tory-run programme aiming to eliminate people with serious disabilities from society.

They simply find any excuse to cut these people off from the benefit system, forcing them into poverty and despair.

The end result – as we have seen in many cases over the last few years – is that, if their disabilities or failing health due to the forced imposition of poverty don’t kill them, they may end up taking their own lives due to despair.

The attitude seems to be that people, who are unable to work for the pittance the Conservative Party calls a living wage, are “useless eaters”, as described by the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

And just as the Nazis believed, it seems the Tories think the UK would be better-off if those people were cut off from society and the support it offers.

The only difference is that the Nazis went to the lengths of killing these people themselves; the Tories do it indirectly by benefit denial.

Now the Tories are seeking re-election for another five-year Parliamentary term, in order to continue causing this suffering and death – and possibly to extend it to other families.

Your family, perhaps.

Are you really willing to risk that? Would you use your vote to support this barbarity?

Source: Greenstead mum hits out at DWP as son’s disability benefits stopped | Gazette

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Here is another death to add to the DWP’s body count

Amy Nice.

Does anybody remember a song by The Police called Murder By Numbers? One of the verses went like this:

You can reach the top of your profession
If you become the leader of the land
For murder is the sport of the elected
You don’t need to lift a finger of your hand.

That certainly rings true in the case of Amy Nice, who took her own life because she feared that her Universal Credit would be sanctioned away from her because pen-pushers at the Department for Work and Pensions might think she wasn’t doing enough to find work.

This is a young woman with kidney disease and attendant severe depression and anxiety. She should have been classified as having a long-term illness – and eventually was, but too late to do any good. DWP assessors had pressurised her into an early grave.

Ms Nice’s terror of losing benefits was due to the ratcheting-up of the sanctions regime at the DWP. On Twitter today, I learned a little about how that had happened. It seems the Liberal Democrats had agreed to it while in coalition government with the Conservatives in 2014 – in return for agreement to place a 5p tax on plastic bags at shops. Here’s Polly Mackenzie:

The Liberal Democrats had no qualms about increasing the threat to the lives of benefit claimants; they wanted a boost for their environmental credentials in time for their party conference – and nobody had to know about their grotty little deal.

Well, now we do.

It is because of this deal that people like Ms Nice have been going to their deaths with a regularity that makes the government that has been in place since 2010 one of the worst-ever killers of its own citizens. Thousands have died.

But nobody in power will ever admit responsibility; they’ll say these people took their own lives. And the reasons for suicide are complicated.

Coroner James Newman doesn’t seem to think so. He made it perfectly clear that Ms Nice took her life because she was “under pressure from the Department for Work and Pensions” and accepted that this “would play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of physical and mental illness.”

Read the story for yourself:

“A struggling young mum took her own life after she feared losing her benefits under the Government’s Universal Credit scheme, an inquest heard.

“Amy Nice, 21, had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety following a diagnosis for kidney disease but had felt ‘pressurised’ to find work under new rules for claimants.

“On October 24 last year, after months of financial worry, Amy wrote a suicide note saying she ‘couldn’t see a way forward’, dropped off her young son at school then hanged herself in woodland near her home in the village of Coppull near Chorley, Lancashire.

“At an inquest into her death, a coroner ruled the tragedy as suicide saying the risk of losing benefits would ‘play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of illness’.

“Coroner James Newman said: “She was under pressure from the Department for Work and Pensions – a source of income she relied on. The pressure was to get back to work or be able to prove she was searching for work.

“”In a person with her mental history I could understand that would be difficult. There is pressure that she could run the risk of losing her benefits and I can see that financial matters would play massively on a young woman’s mind with a young child and history of physical and mental illness.””

To the DWP and its lower-than-vermin minister Esther McVey, this means nothing.

She’d probably say the Department’s cruel threat of sanctions had “assisted” Ms Nice into a place where she could be happier. I refer, of course, to the grave.

And they will never – ever – consciously accept responsibility, even though it is plain for all to see that this woman died under threat from the DWP, which was acting on the orders of the Conservative government.

The ever-increasing ranks of the deceased are a demand for justice.

When will they get it?


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Council to kick man out of housing because he isn’t ill enough – despite multiple conditions

David Bone may not be ill enough under Lewisham Council guidelines, but the officials’ decision is making him want to be dead. Is that the intention?

Who devises the regulations that dictate whether a person’s physical illnesses are enough to justify assisted housing? What are their qualifications and what criteria do they use?

Or is it just an arbitrary decision?

Be honest – the latter seems more likely.

A man with a lung disease said he is suicidal at the prospect of becoming homeless after the council decided he is ‘not in priority need’ for housing.

Lewisham Council decided to ‘terminate’ David Bone’s place at its hostel in Sydenham Hill because he doesn’t meet the appropriate legal definition of ‘physical or mental impairment’ needed to be listed as in priority need for homing by the council.

Mr Bone previously lived in a van for 10 months after he got divorced. He was given a space in the hostel six months ago and said he will now have to move out on October 26.

The council said he has the option to request a review of its decision.

Mr Bone suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a lung disease that causes breathing difficulties – and has arthritis in both knees, his lower back and his left shoulder. He has Atrial Fibrillation – a heart condition that gives him an irregular heartbeat – and suffers from depression, for which he has been sent for counselling by his GP.

He has been given a disabled blue badge by Lewisham Council that expires next July and he also receives Disability Living Allowance.

The 64-year-old said if he is moved out on October 26, he will sleep rough in his van.Coun

Source: Man ‘suicidal’ over being homeless after Lewisham Council decision | News Shopper


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‘Brown Envelope Day’ – and the horror it holds for sick and disabled people

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]

Look at the blood pressure reading and pulse count mentioned in Julia Smith’s Facebook comment (copied below). Does that really tally with the claim by Damian Green and the DWP to be “helping” people? Really?

Of course it does not.

The Work Capability Assessment and everything associated with it is inimical to health – inherently harmful, as anybody who has even witnessed one will know.

It is carried out, not by a “medical professional”, as the Department for Work and Pensions is still – pathetically – trying to claim, but by the employee of a private company hired to reduce the number of people claiming benefits. They have a multiple choice test on their computers; their questions demand simple yes/no answers that are intended to hide the nature of a person’s condition rather than explain it; and their intention is to deny that real conditions exist.

This is just one of the reasons the United Nations has condemned the UK for systematic violations of the human rights of sick and disabled people.

Oh, and a new wave of them seems to have been sent out to do their worst just before Christmas, in what can only be seen as a campaign of demoralisation against the vulnerable. As This Blog has explained, Christmas is a very unhappy time of year for many people – particularly those who have few friends and family around them, possibly because of an illness. Deprivation of benefit, and the few luxuries it may provide, might just push people over the cliff edge Ms Smith mentions. Damian Green knows this very well.

That is why Ms Smith is in despair.

That is why she is saying her Christmas is ruined; she must fight this latest attempt to force her into destitution. How would you feel, if it was you?

And yet people keep voting Conservative, in order to allow this torture to continue.

They might make alternative claims – “The Tories are the only ones who can be trusted with the economy” (not true, for reasons that have been trotted out many times over the last couple of days, the gist being that they have deliberately harmed the UK’s industrial base and increased the national debt) or “Labour can’t be trusted” (Heaven forbid that those horrible socialists should come along and actually help the people of the UK) – but they know that the torture is taking place.

Therefore, by passing their vote for the Conservatives, they know that they are supporting the torture of the sick, disabled and vulnerable.

Fortunately, Ms Smith is not alone. There is a large support network available to her, should she fall foul of the system, and the long-term effect on her may – and I stress that it is only a possibility – be minimised.

But in the short term her life is disrupted, her plans for Christmas are thrown into chaos, and her mental and physical health are threatened.

All while millions of people protest helplessness, in full knowledge of the fact that they could stop it at once, if they only had the will.

OH….MY….GOODNESS !!

Never mind ‘Black Friday’… this is definitely ‘Black Wednesday’ for me.

IT’S BROWN ENVELOPE DAY. Only my fellow disabled friends will truly understand the chilling significance of that.

It means I face yet another corrupt assessment.

It means that once again I am in despair.

It means Christmas is ruined.

I feel like I can’t cope, but somehow I will have to.

I refuse to just lay down and die like the Tories want me to.

My blood pressure is 190/125 and my pulse is racing at 110 per min, but at least I get to see the heart specialist on Monday.

This needs saying…for all you people who keep voting Conservative, you are voting for me and my disabled friends to be continually bullied, abused, harassed, criminalised, our human rights deliberately violated and our already challenging lives destroyed. The stress from this oppression is unbearable.

They are pushing hundreds of thousands of us off the cliff.

I am considering publishing a page with links to organisations that provide support for people who face continual interference from the Department for Work and Pensions. If you are a member or organiser of such a group and you wish to be listed, please send me details of your organisation and how it may be contacted by a member of the public, via the form below. THIS IS NOT A COMMENT FORM, SO PLEASE DO NOT USE IT TO COMMENT ON THE ARTICLE!

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Unrepentant IDS will persecute the sick no matter what the death statistics say

ids-auschwitz-meme

The publication of the DWP’s damped-down death statistics (we’ll be given ratios because the actual number of deaths is too inflammatory, we’re told) will be a victory for those of us who have campaigned for the facts, no matter what they actually say.

If you didn’t know already, the DWP only announced that it would publish these figures on Thursday (August 27) after This Writer supplied his submission to the Information Tribunal on the DWP’s appeal against providing the actual numbers – a submission which included a request to have the appeal struck out on the grounds that it is an abuse of process.

Suddenly the date of publication went from being “before the end of autumn” (according to Priti Patel) to August 27. Clearly the DWP was terrified that it would lose control of events and the public would get accurate information, and acted accordingly.

In short: IDS and his department fell apart like a paper bag in a thunderstorm.

It is impossible to say what the statistics will reveal, when they are finally published (at 9.30am on Thursday, it seems). Perhaps they will provide exhaustive information on the deaths that have taken place, broken down into the groups requested by This Writer and others (it is said to be in response to FoI requests), and also providing information on the causes of the deaths, with appendices containing the raw data used to produce the report.

Alternatively, we could get a dumbed-down piece of fluff that provides as little as possible that can be used to find out the extent of the carnage, but can be waved at us by Iain Duncan Smith as evidence that he has given us what we wanted… and as evidence that any figures demanded by the Information Tribunal are of little consequence.

That is the aim – damage limitation. To make it seem that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Plausible deniability.

The DWP already believes it has plausible deniability for every dodgy death on its books; no DWP representative can be said to be directly responsible for any of the deaths – they were a consequence of claimants’ illnesses, right? Even the suicides can be claimed as indicative of claimants’ poor mental health – except we know that anyone confessing suicidal thoughts at a work capability assessment is immediately asked why they haven’t already killed themselves.

Not conclusive? Maybe not. But then, that isn’t the only evidence available. It’s all part of a bigger picture.

In December last year, This Blog published a series of articles (here’s one) explaining how the DWP’s behaviour may be equated with the Nazi ‘chequebook euthanasia’ programme that eventually became known as Aktion T4 – a programme that caused the deaths of 70,000 German people with (among other problems) mental illnesses, before its methods were used against entire races the Nazis considered undesirable, in the extermination camps.

“It could be argued that the Coalition Government doesn’t have any blood on its hands. Nobody goes around the United Kingdom subjecting the sick and disabled to so-called ‘mercy’ killings, after all,” I wrote.

“They just subject people – who are already in an unstable frame of mind – to a highly pressurised ‘fitness’ test and then demand to know why, considering their condition, they haven’t killed themselves yet. Then they let those people do all the work themselves.”

On Thursday, it’s just possible that we might find out how successful they’ve been. If there have been more than 70,273 deaths in the last few years, the Conservative Party will have beaten the Nazis.

And Iain Duncan Smith intends to continue. Only this week, he announced a new plan to purge the Employment and Support Allowance benefit bill of mentally ill claimants. He told us “Work is good for your health”.

In fact, if you have a mental illness, work can drive you to an early death via a combination of (among others) stress, anxiety, depression and paranoia.

Duncan Smith’s claim that “Work is good for your health” may therefore be seen as a lie – almost as great a lie as the slogan from which it was adapted.

You’ll be familiar with it: “Work makes you free” – it hangs in its more familiar form of “Arbeit macht frei” over the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp that Duncan Smith visited in 2009.

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People with mental health problems ARE vulnerable and the DWP has lied AGAIN

zDWP-Vulnerable

A claim by the Department for Work and Pensions that jobseekers with mental health problems are not classed as vulnerable and may be sanctioned with impunity is false, documentary evidence has shown.

Welfare Weekly revealed last week that JSA claimants with even the most serious mental health illnesses are not considered vulnerable by DWP. This has a knock-on effect when their Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) is reduced or stopped.

In that circumstance, everyone can apply for a hardship payment totallying up to 60 per cent of their JSA, to help cover the cost of food and bills while they have no other means of support.

Those classed as ‘vulnerable’ can normally claim this vital support immediately, but others may have to wait at least two weeks, and then go through what could be a lengthy application process.

In the case of claimants with mental health problems, that two-week wait could be extremely dangerous.

According to the article: “DWP guidance on hardship payments states: ‘Requests for hardship payments may be made by people who say they have a mental condition. A person will only be a member of a vulnerable group if the condition causes limitation in functional capacity because of a physical impairment.’

The guidance goes on to clarify that mental health problems without physical impairment include: “Affective disorder, Agoraphobia, Anorexia nervosa, Anxiety, Bipolar Affective disorder, Bulimia nervosa, Depression, Dissociative disorders, Nervous Debility, Neurasthenia, Neurosis, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Panic attacks, Paranoia, Phobias, Phobic anxiety, Psychoneurosis, Psychosis, and Schizophrenia.”

Oh, really?

Vox Political has received information showing that both the Department of Health and the Home Office disagree with this definition – and the DWP has in fact made itself vulnerable to accusations that its own guidance is encouraging decision makers to abuse vulnerable adults.

The Department of Health/Home Office paper No secrets: Guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse adopts and confirms a broad definition of a “vulnerable adult” from a 1997 consultation paper entitled ‘Who Decides?’, that had previously been issued by the Lord Chancellor’s Department.

It defines a ‘vulnerable adult’ as a person “who is or may be in need of community care services* by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness; and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation” [bolding mine].

The paper adopts as a “starting point” for its definition of abuse, that it is “a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights by any other person or persons”.

“Any other person or persons” includes officials working for the Department for Work and Pensions.

It seems the DWP has a huge amount of explaining to do.

Please publicise this widely and pass it on to anybody who is vulnerable due to mental health issues, along with anybody dealing with such people in a professional context (including carers). Everybody needs to know about this.

Of course, anyone with serious mental health problems should be receiving Employment and Support Allowance rather than JSA, but of course the work capability assessment process used by the DWP is hopelessly inadequate at identifying people who need the alternative benefit – it was designed to be that way.

Anyone affected by the DWP’s discrimination against the vulnerable should also consider campaigning against the work capability assessment.

*For the purposes of this guidance ‘community care services’ will be taken to include all care services provided in any setting or context.

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Job centres to overcome mental health barriers to work | Wales – ITV News

What do readers think of this?

This Writer has grave concerns. Is this a programme that tries to brainwash people into thinking that they’re healthy when they’re not – like the DWP’s own work capability assessment?

Your comments are requested.

The ‘Press Pause to Play’ programme was piloted in Swansea towards the end of last year, helping people with anxiety and depression through a combination of psychology, physiology and neuroscience.

Run by a specialist stress and anxiety management company, the programme reportedly saw 50% of participants successfully run to work.

By partnering with the Department for Work and Pensions, the company – ‘Start Smiling Again’ hope to achieve similar results across Wales by rolling the programme out to a number of job centres in South Wales.

Source: Job centres to overcome mental health barriers to work | Wales – ITV News

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Our sick and disabled are being stifled; we should give them space to breathe

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity will be holding a mass demonstration against the government’s austerity measures on Wednesday (July 8) – which is when George Osborne is set to deliver his benefits-bashing ’emergency’ budget.

They have invited Maggie Zolobajluk, who organised the petition in support of my bid to find out how many people have died while claiming sickness/disability benefits, to speak – but not me.

Maggie kindly asked me if I would be able to make it to London and speak instead of her – and I’d love to – but I don’t think it’s possible. The distance is too great, and I can’t justify being away from Mrs Mike – and also the blog, on a day that will affect the way the UK develops for the foreseeable future.

I started drafting out a few words for her to deliver on my behalf – but they turned into a full-blown speech instead. I ended up writing far too much – so, rather than ask her to say it, I’m publishing it here instead.

A previous demonstration, staged by the People's Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.

A previous demonstration, staged by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.

I am neither sick, nor disabled – but I choose to side with the sick and disabled against oppression.

It isn’t an entirely altruistic choice. Mrs Mike – as she is known on my blog, Vox Political – has been ill for many years, and we have fought battle after battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over the benefits to which she is entitled.

You’re probably sick of hearing the famous verse by Pastor Martin Niemoller, but he was right. Who’s going to stand up for me, if I don’t stand up for other people first?

Mrs Mike and I are used to winning those battles, and I wonder how much of that success is due to the fact that I am able-bodied. Think about it – if you are battling constant pain, or are a victim of depression, or your condition fluctuates so you simply don’t know if you’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning, or you have any number of the other maladies that may affect the sick or disabled – then the last thing you’ll want to do is argue over tiny details with a gang of suited pedants in Whitehall.

Additionally, these pedants have employed private contractors to make sure they judge the severity of a person’s sickness using information that is wrong.

If you’re sick, or disabled, the pressure can be too much to bear. And not every sick or disabled person has an able-bodied partner like me to take up the slack.

So, inevitably, the worst happens.

Only last weekend I learned about Graham Shawcross, of Manchester. Mr Shawcross had lived – and worked – with Addison’s Disease for 40 years before having to claim sickness benefit. It is a potentially fatal condition whose symptoms include exhaustion, muscle weakness, dizziness, fainting and cramps that can lead to adrenal crisis, which can be fatal. But that isn’t what killed him!

No – Mr Shawcross died of a heart attack in February, after being ruled “fit for work” by the DWP in November last year. He had been preparing to present an appeal against the decision – writing out the details several times a day, and talking about it constantly.

His widow said the stress of having to do this – stress that was created by, and only by, the DWP’s “fit for work” decision – was what killed him.

You should be aware that the DWP says it is “irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, and “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population”. We’ve seen that comment in the newspapers very often over the last few weeks.

It’s a statement that falls flat when the DWP’s own position is that the individual was “fit for work” at the time of his death.

Months after Mr Shawcross passed away – and despite being told this had happened by his widow – the DWP initially invited him to an appeal hearing, and then admitted he was seriously ill and deserved Employment and Support Allowance.

It’s a bit late for that now!

How many other benefit denials have been reversed after the claimant has died?

We don’t know – but it’s the subject of my next Freedom of Information request!

The man responsible for this regime, Iain Duncan Smith, is said to be religious so he should understand me when I say people claiming benefit must feel as though they have been crucified by their physical or mental ill-health. Instead of offering relief, Mr Duncan Smith and his department complete the job with a ‘crown of forms’ that push them into an early grave.

One has to question the morality of a supposed Christian who approves of crucifixion!

But then, it seems even leading members of the Catholic Church to which he belongs have tried pleading with him to alter the fatal direction of his policies – there was an article to that effect in the most recent edition of Catholic newspaper The Tablet.

But government ministers say it is “irresponsible” to claim that the benefit assessment system had anything to do with the death.

I wonder if they’ll say that to Mrs Shawcross, who is adamant that the system is what killed her husband. That would be a conversation worth hearing!

I first became concerned about the number of people who were dying while claiming benefits when the DWP itself revealed that 10,600 deaths had occurred between January and November 2011. Note that the official figures did not include December, which is considered to be a season of increased suicides.

This concern became alarm after I learned that Freedom of Information requests by other individuals, calling for updated figures, had been refused for no reason other than that the 2011 statistics had been part of an ‘ad-hoc’, one-off, release.

So I sent off a request, and asked readers of the blog to support it with requests of their own – to show that it was a matter of wider public concern. Only 23 did, but that was enough for the DWP to refuse me on the grounds that I was being “vexatious” – trying to flood the Department with work.

I’m still not sure how that claim can be justified. It’s the same information – all they had to do was put it together and send it off to the people who wanted it. It seems that creating a mailing list of email addresses is too much for a government department with more than 100,000 employees.

The tribunal that turned down my appeal did express considerable sympathy for my position, and suggested that another FoI request should result in publication of the statistics. So I wrote another one.

I won’t go into the details – it’s enough for you to know that, after several months of fighting with the DWP, I won.

The DWP then chose to take the matter to a tribunal, employing an expensive Treasury barrister to make out the case. It seems that, while Freedom of Information requests cannot cost more than £600 – that’s the legal limit – the government can spend as much of your money as it likes, if it wants to withhold the facts.

That’s when Maggie Zolobajluk started her petition, calling on the tribunal to refuse the appeal.

Now, instead of 23 supporters, my request has 230,000.

So David Cameron told Parliament that the figures will be published. What he didn’t tell Parliament was that they would be homogenised, amortised, Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, that show the deaths as a ratio compared with the death rate amongst the wider population – and he certainly won’t tell anyone how many people have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits since November 2011.

And now the Justice Secretary is trying to make it harder for Freedom of Information requests to succeed. It seems the embarrassment they cause is just too much for the administration that once said it intended to be the most open government ever.

Michael Gove wants to include “thinking time” in the cost of handling FoI requests.

What does that even mean?

Parliament’s Justice Select Committee has already stated that including “thinking time” in FoI costs would introduce an unwelcome variable into the system, which relies on everyone having equal access to the facts. The cost of “thinking time” would depend on the abilities of the civil servant dealing with the request.

Not only that, but we should ask what “thinking” has to do with it in any case. When a request is made under the Freedom of Information Act, the only questions a public authority may ask are whether it has the information and can publish it within the £600 cost limit. Questions about – for example – the motives behind the request are immaterial.

What are we to conclude?

That we have a government that intentionally complicates benefit claims for the sick and disabled.

That people who might live decent and, in many ways, productive lives are having those lives cut short because of goverment policy.

That the government does not want the wider population of the UK to know the true number of deaths.

That the government wants to shut down the Freedom of Information system so inconvenient questions like this can no longer be asked.

In short, that the government wants to smother any attempt to question it.

Too many sick and disabled people have been smothered already.

They need space to breathe.

It is up to the rest of us to help them get it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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